Florida Fire Displaces Two Families

Eleven people were burned out of a duplex after a fire tore through the rentals early Wednesday, authorities said.

A faulty refrigerator motor sparked the flames that burned through the duplex on the 5700th block of Second Street West, said Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Leigh Hollins. The fire caused an estimated $90,000 in damage to the building.

A bright pink scooter left in the parking lot Wednesday afternoon was a sharp contrast to the charred turquoise building with shattered windows that still smelled of smoke.

Two families were living in the duplex, Hollins said, but no one was injured in the fire, which left both rental units uninhabitable.

One of the families had just moved into the two-bedroom unit on the left side of the duplex Friday, Hollins said. There were seven people - the renting family of four, including two children, and three visiting relatives - staying there when the fire started around 2:56 a.m.

"Their smoke detector wasn't working," Hollins said. "They woke up to the smell of smoke."

After noticing the smoke, the residents called 911.

It took firefighters 14 minutes to respond because a wrong address was provided, according to the fire department's news release. Firefighters doused the flames a half-hour later, and investigators stayed until 5 a.m. searching the charred home to determine the cause of the fire.

A family member told fire investigators that the refrigerator seemed strange when he moved in, Hollins said.

"The fridge never really got cold," Hollins said. "He suspected something wrong with it."

Despite the responding ambulances and fire engines from both Cedar Hammock and Southern Manatee Fire Rescue, many of the neighbors said they slept through the commotion.

"I didn't hear anything," said Cindy Kalligher, who lives across the street. "When I walked out this morning, I said to myself 'this house is burnt.'"

Kalligher, who lives with her husband Tom and 12-year-old son Zachary, said the duplex had been empty for some time before the family moved in on Friday.

Since then, Tom Kalligher said, the new tenant put in fences on both sides of the property and planted some red hibiscus under the windows.

"They were trying to clean it up a bit," he said.

The duplex belongs to Richard McNally of Bradenton, according to property records. McNally could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The fire forced the duplex's other tenants, a family of three to move in with relatives for now.

The Red Cross is providing the family of four and their visitors with a hotel room for three days, food and clothes, said Bobbi Larson, spokeswoman for the Manatee chapter. The organization spent $850 helping the family.

Fire and Red Cross officials did not identify the tenants Wednesday.

Since January, the Red Cross has provided similar help to 27 families displaced by fires, Larson said.

"The assistance varies," she said. "Occasionally we provide them with medication or prescription glasses. If they lose a family member, we cover the costs for a simple funeral."

Distributed by the Associated Press